Report from Not-for-Profit Webmaster Round Table

At this week’s meeting of the Not-for-Profit Webmaster Round Table, we watched demos of Giving Impact, a new online fundraising platform from Minds on Design Lab;  a Digg-like site which allows visitors to vote up / down their favorite nonprofit tech posts; and Pushcards, a novel way to create a postcard campaign using  (using Click2Mail to send postcards).  But how well could the effectiveness of a postcard campaign be measured?

Not-for-Profit Webmaster Round TableWe then turned to mobile.  We agreed that besides the obvious technical issues of creating a mobile optimized site and/or application, content is often the biggest challenge. Designing for mobile forces an organization to prioritize its content for a small screen, much like many departments have often competed for space on a website home page.  As an alternative to a complete website redesign (often the only way to make an existing site work well on mobile), David Milner reported success using Mobify as an interim step.  I also recommended the WordPress plug-in WPTouch.  To learn more about responsive design, take a class with Noble Desktop (in NYC).

Who’s ready for year-end fundraising?  Apparently not many organizations that were represented at our meeting.  It’s time to get started.  We also discussed how to create ‘benefits’ to encourage constituents to join (membership) organizations;  one attendee suggested setting up conference calls between members and top management.  I also recommended offering a monthly giving option, like WBGO is doing in its current fundraising drive.

How about using video to stimulate fundraising / engagement?  Rainforest Alliance has nearly 1.4 million views to date with Follow the Frog. Also, Charity Water continues to create amazing videos, such as its current September Campaign.

Of course no get-together of iT folk is complete without a venture into social media.  One attendee’s client recently asked what other social platforms they should try, even though they haven’t yet analyzed their current activity on Facebook and Twitter to determine their effectiveness.  Twitter has a new analytics module which is worth a look, as is Twitonomy.  (Also see my recent blog post highlighting Idealware’s great new social media guide.)

If you haven’t tried Google+ Hangouts / Hangouts On Air for group meetings, it’s time to take a look – some of our attendees prefer it to Skype.

Finally, we sadly agreed that the ideal of a nonprofit using a decentralized system to update web content is often still a dream.  It’s not easy to get staff to update content, especially if it’s not officially part of their job.  Providing content templates can sometimes help, but it’s still a tricky process to get staff to understand that a fresh website is still important, even in the age of social media.  If your staff does write content, make sure you enable your content management systems’s workflow capabilities so updates can be reviewed before publication.

Contact us if you’d like to be notified about our next meeting, planned for December.

More 2012 Blog Highlights

Continuing from last week’s post, these are topics I wrote about on Nonprofit Bridge in 2012:

Wishing you a healthy and joyful 2013!  Hope to see many of you at next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in Minneapolis in April, where I’ll be leading a panel on Why Organization Structure Matters for Online Success.

Photos – A Simple Way to Engage Your Audience

Like - Comment - ShareOn Facebook, posts with photos attract many more likes and comments than posts with only a link.

In most nonprofits I’ve worked at, pictures are stored in many locations, some which are only accessible by a single staff member or department.  Often the same photo is stored in multiple places because staff aren’t aware of the other storage areas.  Or, only the Communications department is encouraged to photograph.

A simple tip – designate a central online location for organization photos, and encourage everyone (not just the communications department) to store pictures there.  This will make it easier to quickly pull photos for Facebook or Twitter updates,  website pages and blog posts.  Encourge staff to take pictures wherever your organization is serving your audience – not just at formal events.

Today I received two email messages at work with photos, one with them attached to the email, the other with photos incorporated into the message.  While it’s great to share visual images with your co-workers, it’s even better to show supporters the impact of your work.  If photos work so well on Facebook, they will also work well on your other communication channels.

For more Facebook specific tips, see John Haydon’s Six Creative Ways to  Use Photos to Increase Engagement On Your Facebook Page. And for a great example of how to use photos (and videos) effectively, see Charity:Water‘s website and social media sites.

Charity:Water Talks Digital Strategy at 501TechNYC Meeting

Water Changes EverythingAs presenter Paull Young mentioned during his opening remarks, it seemed only fitting yesterday to discuss Charity:Water on a day when heavy rains soaked the NYC area.  Despite the harsh weather and the scheduling of the event in mid-July, a capacity crowd attended our monthly 501 Tech NYC meeting held at the NYC Foundation Center.

Even though the organization has only existed for six years, Charity:Water has had amazing results in fundraising, and consistently raises the bar in how nonprofits should communicate with supporters.  How do they do so well?

  • blending traditional fundraising and communications functions, which many nonprofits struggle with.  Their focus isn’t only on raising money, it’s on maintaining an ongoing dialogue with constituents to demonstrate the impact of their donations
  • consistently strong videos and photography to show their work
  • an open, collaborative culture, similar to what Beth Kanter describes in the Networked Nonprofit
  • focus on positive messages, not doom and gloom about the difficulties that many people around the world have in obtaining clean water
  • ability to learn from mistakes – as Paul said, we ‘do it wrong quickly’
  • website focuses on story telling, not only on getting donations (although the money comes in anyway)

These are great ideas to take back to your organization.  As demonstrated by Paull’s enthusiasm, Charity:Water also thrives by hiring a great staff who are truly engaged in their cause, and who thrive in a flat, team-oriented culture.  We can all learn from their success.  (See also my post from last year when Paull spoke at Fundraising Day in NYC.)

Why Everyone is in Communications

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’re probably familiar with my theme that if you work for a nonprofit, you should be involved with fundraising, even if you don’t work in Development.  In my work with nonprofits for over ten years, I’ve helped to raise money online by project managing online campaigns and have worked directly with many fundraisers.  Although I’ve usually focused on technology, in my latest gig I’ve been part of a Communications group.

This week’s post by Big Duck on Embedding Communicators in Your Nonprofit explains how the role of Communications has changed as many more staff members are now speaking publicly about their organizations in blogs and in social media platforms.  So while Communications may still be considered the ‘official’ voice for channels such as the organization’s main web site, press releases, enewsletters, annual reports etc., there are many more opportunities for staff to spread the word about their nonprofit’s work. Rather than something that needs to be ‘controlled,’ this should be viewed as an opportunity to increase an organization’s outreach.

This trend also points to the importance of developing a social media policy, which I mentioned in this post earlier this year, so nonprofit staff have guidelines on how to talk about their nonprofit both online and off.

I’ve noticed that the most successful nonprofits often have environments where staff routinely collaborate, regardless of what department they work in.  This is especially important when implementing online initiatives, which require the participation of technology, communications and development staff.  It’s no surprise that this is most easily done in smaller nonprofits, such as Charity:Water, which I recently profiled, and Harlem Academy, which this week won the main prize at the New York Times Company 2011 Nonprofit Excellence Awards.   (Congrats also to City Harvest and Sanctuary for Families who were also recognized, as well as semi-finalists City Parks Foundation, Heart of Brooklyn and NYC Outward Bound.)

Recommendation – don’t think that only Development raises funds and only Communications represents your organization to the public.  It may have been that way in the past, but not today.

You Don’t Need to Recreate the Wheel

Trying to figure out how your organization can be more effective online?  There are many nonprofits that are already succeeding that you can learn from.  Probably the most publicized success story in recent years is the astounding growth of charity: water, featured in a recent post by  One particularly interesting point is how charity: water has partnered which local organizations that actually do much of their core work (the nonprofit didn’t build an infrastructure to do it themselves).

In addition, when charity: water communicates with its supporters, the focus is on the cause, not the organization.  If your organization does many different things and you’re having difficulty what to focus on, take Katya Andresen’s suggestion to make modules out of your mission.  Not all of your constituents will care about everything you do, but there is probably some program or activity that particularly interests them.

Hearing a lot about mobile?  Nten‘s Holly Ross discusses 5 Nonprofits That Are Innovating with Mobile.  Even if you decide that you don’t have the bandwidth for a mobile approach yet, don’t forget to test outgoing emails on cell phones since so many more constituents are reading emails on cell phones.

The old model of technology focused on getting support from product vendors.  While I still work closely with my vendors’ customer support staffs, I also rely on checking in with my colleagues across the country, many who are asking the same questions as I am.  (Some issues I’m currently working on are how can I increase engagement with my organization’s Facebook followers and how can I integrate online forms from my vendors in social media platforms – since this is where many of my constituents are spending time online, never reaching my nonprofit’s website).

Another way to learn from others is to follow the most frequently used nonprofit hashtags, as nicely summarized by Kerri Karvetski.  (Don’t forget to use these hashtags when you post on Twitter!)

Fortunately, the nonprofit sector is a very open, sharing community.  Instead of struggling on your own, take the time to learn from what other organizations have already done, and ask for help if you need assistance in making your nonprofit shine online.  And don’t be afraid to fail.  As I was recently reminded by social media superstar Danielle Brigida, most of us are still figuring things out, especially since online products / services are constantly changing.

How to Succeed Online – Even When You Think You Can’t

This week I had the pleasure to be featured on Nten’s Facebook page (Thanks, Holly) of responding to some questions on implementing ephilanthropy strategies.  One commenter mentioned the difficulty of working in an environment with extremely limited financial and staff resources.  Most of us who have worked in nonprofit can relate, but this doesn’t mean that nothing can be done.  Using the Web, especially social media, is available to all, and often the smallest organizations have the most dramatic success.  Here’s a few simple tips that any nonprofit can take advantage of:

  1. Hire people that are enthusiastic about your mission, and who can spread the word to their networks.  As Beth Kanter points out in her recently released The Networked Nonprofit, this also means recruiting those outside of your organization who are also willing to help.
  2. Keep building your email list.  While it’s nice to have followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook, it’s still important to be able to directly communicate with supporters by email, and not only when you want to ask for donations.
  3. Learn from what other nonprofits have done, such as the wildly successful Charity:Water, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help (try Progressive Exchange);  nonprofit professionals are usually very generous with their knowledge.
  4. Read publications such as Convio’s Nonprofit Online Fundraising Guide and Blackbaud’s Index of Online Giving, as well as this recent publication focusing on grassroots environmental organizations, but which has ideas which can be helpful to all nonprofits.
  5. If you’re not already a member, join organizations such as Nten, where you will be able to share ideas with colleagues, attend online trainings and keep yourself motivated.